News / Calgary

Calgary MLA says 'pull out all the stops' to curb opioid deaths

A new report highlights the toll opioids, specifically fentanyl, are taking on emergency rooms across the country

The Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre provides urgent care and will provide Calgary's first supervised consumption services.

JENNIFER FRIESEN/FOR METRO

The Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre provides urgent care and will provide Calgary's first supervised consumption services.

Calgary's first supervised consumption site will be a start, Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said Thursday, but the government is in talks with community groups in the city to see if more will be needed to curb the rising number of opioid-related deaths and emergency room visits.

A new report published this week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) highlights the toll opioids, specifically fentanyl, are taking on emergency rooms across the country.

It found Calgary had highest rate of emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning out of all major cities in Ontario and Alberta last year.

Alberta Health has applied to Health Canada for permission to open several supervised consumption sites in the province, including Calgary's, to be located inside the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in the downtown core, and four in Edmonton.

The site in Calgary will have longer and more robust hours, whereas the Edmonton sites will be open for a series of shorter hours, Payne said.

When asked if one site will be enough, she said the ministry is working to determine where additional sites are needed and exploring options such as mobile sites.

“We know we need to have targeted interventions for people who are living in suburban areas or outside of the downtown core," she said.

According to the CIHI report, at least 2,816 Canadians died from opioid-related causes in 2016; more than the number of people who perished at the height of Canada's HIV epidemic in 1995.

Western provinces, particularly Alberta and British Columbia, have been hit hardest. In this province, 586 people died from opioid-related overdoses last year.

Former family physician and Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann said he wants the health ministry to hold public forums across the province to raise awareness about the crisis and engage communities in finding solutions.

“We need to pull out all the stops to address this and save lives. This is a long term issue that we must make a higher priority in our general society and certainly our health system,” Swann, MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, told Metro.

“We don’t currently have an approach that’s working – it’s saving lives in some cases for the short-term but were not getting ahead of it in terms of emergency room visits or drug use," he said.

On average in 2016, Alberta emergency departments had 11 visits for opioid poisoning every day and poisonings caused by synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) and heroin increased nearly 10-fold.

“We can’t ignore that despite our best efforts, this has continue to worsen,” said Dr. Nicholas Etches, medical officer for the Calgary zone and member of the province's emergency response commission on opioids.

Etches said white the report’s data is sobering, the human toll of the crisis is devastating.

“In addition to the high volumes of emergency department visits we’re seeing, there’s also just the human aspect of seeing so much harm come from opioid use, fentanyl in particular,” Etches said.

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